Pastor's Desk Notes

September 17, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Gospel last Sunday showed us the importance of offering a word of correction to a sinner. If your brother sins against you, Jesus says, we must tell him his fault. It is an act of charity to tell someone their sin, as it opens up the possibility of reconciliation and conversion. Sin tears, and separates us not only from God, but from one another and even, interiorly, from our true selves. When we follow our Lord’s command to speak to our brothers and sisters, neighbors, and others to offer charitable fraternal correction, we become instruments of his healing, binding up what has been torn.

Today, Jesus begins the next part of this teaching. It is one thing to point out to someone the way that their sin negatively impacts us, and an entirely different thing to offer them forgiveness. We are called to do both. When Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive, he is expressing the very real concern that any reasonable person might have. Should I forgive someone even if I know they are going to do it again? How many chances do I give a person before my forgiveness-well dries up? The answer Jesus offers is easier said than done. To the question “must I forgive?” the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

At first glance, telling Peter to forgive seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven, depending on the translation), simply means that we ought to forgive many times. It could be a case of biblical hyperbole, which Jesus is fond of in his teaching style. We might also notice the number seven being multiplied. In Scripture, the number seven is a symbol of perfection, it is the number that corresponds to God, to completion, to peaceful rest. And so, while we see a measure of forgiveness that clearly is meant to be great, we should also hear a connection to the mercy of God. The Fathers of the Church recognized this connection in powerful ways. St. Hilary of Poitiers points out that, though Cain was guilty of murder, God offers him forgiveness and swears to protect him, and should anyone harm Cain “vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold” (Gen. 4:15). A few verses later, a descendant of Cain, Lamech, claims vengeance seventy-seven fold. St. Hilary says that “in our case there is never a time for anger (vengeance), since God pardons us for all sins in their entirety by his gift rather than from our merit.” St. Augustine explains that there were seventy-seven generations from Adam to Christ. Why did Jesus come but to save humanity from sin and to offer forgiveness to all. This includes all who came before Christ, seventy-seven generations worth!

From this great number, this biblically significant amount of forgiveness, today’s Gospel passage continues on to tell the parable of the king settling accounts with his servants. The servant whose debt is forgiven goes out and refuses to forgive the smaller debt of a fellow servant, and this, of course, is a great shortcoming. Rather than imitating his king, the servant takes the lowest road. When Jesus teaches us to forgive, he wants us to forgive as he forgives – abundantly, without number, for seventy-seven generations. We are called then, to forgive as Christ our King forgives. This task is difficult – in our weakness, we are like the forgiven servant and are prone to grudges and resentment. Jesus forgives so easily and quickly, but to forgive others or ourselves often costs us a lot of time. So let us remember that in the seventy-seven generations from Adam to Christ the mercy of God was being revealed constantly. The fallen people of God were reminded time and again of God’s goodness and mercy. We too, in the generations since Christ, are reminded again and again of our need for and the availability of God’s forgiving grace. It may take us time to receive it and time to practice it, but God has poured out that mercy in the past, and he continues to pour it out for us today.


Fr. Sam